Fiction: “A Fatal Waltz” by Tasha Alexander

Fatal WaltzI just chipped one of my teeth on a Dorito. Since this night’s going great already, let’s get a review ready to post, huh?

(P.S., for my readers who come here via my Facebook page and realize, “Hey, wait, I thought Alaina chipped her tooth on a Dorito back on June 24, and here it is [ENTER DATE OF POSTING HERE July 6 {holy shit am I getting caught up? I mean, no, but that’s a way better spread of time!}] – did she chip a different tooth on a different Dorito!? What are the odds of that even happening?!”

And the answer, dear readers, is No – only a single tooth(*) has been felled by a Dorito.

(*) As of this writing, which is June 24th, 2019.

(**) I should also probably mention that I have previously broken the now-chipped tooth, back when I was a junior in high school. I think the filling or rebuild or whatever you call it has finally worn down enough to need to be replaced. It has been almost twenty years since I fell off that waterfall(***)…

(***) This is only a slight exaggeration. My family and I were hiking up Angel Falls in northern Maine, and my mother was in hopes of taking my senior picture for the yearbook.(****) On the way down the waterfall, I slipped and fell head-first into some rocks, breaking my bottom teeth. I am extremely lucky that that’s all that broke.

(****) My mother is still a bit mad that I eventually submitted a picture from a roller coaster for the yearbook. It is not what was distributed to the relatives.

But as for the time difference in the tooth-chipping and this review being posted: I have gotten into a [stupid] habit of trying to be at least three reviews ahead of my posting backlog. So for instance – I’m writing this blog on June 24th, but I’ve had the reviews for Luck Is No LadySweet Toothand Persuasion in my drafts queue for a while. Once I finish writing this post, I’m going to save it, and post the review for Luck Is No Lady. And when this post finally gets published, you can rest assured that I will have reviews lined up for at least … whatever the next three books in my queue are, I can’t tell, Excel won’t open right now.

“Okay, Alaina. Yeah, okay. Okay, Alaina. So – WHY DO YOU DO THIS?!” you ask.

ron's permit-1

 

ron's permit-2.gif

I DO WHAT I WANT LEAVE ME ALONE.)

Anyways.

As I think I said when I reviewed the last book in this series – though it could have been another book, who knows, I’m not going back to figure it out – I have to do a couple of things better. Number one, I need to do a better job about reading the next book in a series without waiting over a year, because it takes me a bit to remember who all the players are when I’m reading it. And secondly, I need to do better about either taking notes or marking pages in books that I own, because I have no notes or dogears in my copy of A Fatal Waltz so this might be an even shittier “review” than I normally do.

(Considering I’ve wasted nearly 600 words on a) a chipped tooth, b) how that tooth was originally broken, and c) how that affects my blog posting schedule, I apparently don’t have that much farther to slide on my “shitty” scale.)

Okay. So. Lady Emily – remember, she’s a widow, in 1890s Britain – has gotten engaged to Colin Hargreaves, her husband’s best friend. (It’s cool, though – read the past two books if you’re concerned.) And she is invited to a weekend garden party in the country by her best friend Ivy. Emily hates a couple of the people who are also there – including Lord Fortescue, the mentor of Ivy’s husband – but because Emily loves Ivy, she goes.

In addition to the awful Lord Fortescue, there’s also Kristiana von Lange, an Austrian countess, who used to “work” “with” Colin.

Oh shit. I never mentioned – Colin’s a spy for the War Office (or whatever they’re calling the War Office at this point in British history). So that “work” is “spy stuff”, but also, think about how James Bond “works” with Vesper Lynd.

However, Colin is extremely faithful to Emily. But a good portion of the plot (as I remember it, nearly nine months later) is made up of Emily trying to reason out of her jealousy towards Kristiana. And Kristiana is not a good sport, who stands aside when her former lover becomes engaged to another woman. Oh, no – she tries to take her lover back, even though she know she doesn’t want him forever.

So anyway. All those awful people are at this weekend garden party, and Emily is pretty miserable whenever she’s not hiding in the hallway, discreetly making out with Colin.

But then Lord Fortescue is murdered, and the prime suspect is Ivy’s husband, Robert.

Emily is determined to prove Robert’s innocence, and the clues take her and her entourage – consisting of Cécile, a friend of her husband’s and confidante, and Emily’s childhood friend Jeremy – to Vienna, to investigate a plot involving anarchists who may or may not have been attempting a coup.

Colin is also in Vienna, working alongside Kristiana, trying to find the same information. He is not happy that Emily has put herself into possible danger, but he also recognizes that even as her fiancé, he is powerless to stop her.

I really wish I had done a better job about taking notes. I know there’s a lovely subplot about one of the artists Emily meets in a coffee shop, and how he’s enamored of a young woman but I think he needs to win over her mother, who happens to be an empress (?) – and I’m not going to look it up, it’s almost midnight as I’m writing this and I really should be asleep by now. Anyway, I do recall that the artist is eventually introduced to the empress and his sketches do in fact win her over, so by the end of the novel, they’re happily in love.

Also happily in love is Emily and Colin, jealousy over Kristiana be-damned. There’s another small subplot – more of a running gag, almost – involving Emily’s conservative, traditional mother, who has instructed Emily and Colin (not advisedinstructed) to hold off on their nuptials until Queen Victoria has given them her blessing – or maybe it’s that they need to hold off until Buckingham Palace is available. I’m not sure, can’t remember, and I’m not looking it up. But at the end of the book, Emily and Colin elope while on Santorini. And if that’s not the pinnacle of a romantic elopement, I don’t know what is.

santorini-view.jpg

I mean — that is goddamned beautiful.

Overall, I’m giving the book 3 stars. I think it suffered from having Emily and Colin apart so much, but that might be my personal bias. And I promise to not wait another three years before picking up the next book in the series.

Grade for A Fatal Waltz: 3 stars

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Fiction: “Persuasion” by Jane Austen

PersuasionSo right off the bat – yes, Pride and Prejudice is great. And sure, Mr. Darcy is swoon-worthy (to a point – especially when portrayed by Colin Firth). And I know there are a lot of people out there who would die for Colonel Brandon. But for my money, Persuasion is the best love story Jane Austen ever wrote.

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, the middle sister between Elizabeth and Mary. Their mother died, leaving their father, Sir Walter Elliot, in charge of their fortunes. Sir Walter Elliot is – to put it lightly – a vain narcissistic idiot. He doesn’t understand that when you purchase things on credit, eventually the credit gots to be paid. He also cares very very much about what others think of him, and he strives to be thought of in only the best of terms. (Spoiler Alert!: He’s not.)

At the beginning of the novel, Sir Walter is arranging Kellynch Hall, the family estate, to be let. He and Elizabeth and Anne will temporarily relocate to Bath while they earn income on the rented house and land. Anne is not interested in going to Bath and ends up staying with her younger sister Mary, who is a right pain in the ass. But Anne is happy to be in the country instead of Bath, and she is glad to be “of use”, so she stays behind. She and her surrogate mother figure, Lady Russell, will both go to Bath nearer to Christmas.

While taking care of Mary, Anne meets the renters of Kellynch Hall – Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia, who is the sister of Captain Frederick Wentworth.

And here’s where it gets good.

See – seven years ago, when Anne was 19, she was engaged to Captain Wentworth! Except he wasn’t a captain back then – he was a perfectly nice young man, clever and sure of himself, and he had just enlisted with the Navy. But Sir Walter – and Lady Russell and Elizabeth as well – were of the opinion that a Navy man was just not important enough for an Elliot to marry. Wentworth didn’t have a family patronage in Debrett’s Peerage, nor was he wealthy.

In spite of her feelings, Anne let herself be persuaded by Lady Russell and her father to break off their engagement. Wentworth goes off to the Navy, sad to lose Anne, but understanding, and Anne stays home with her father and sisters. The former lovers haven’t seen each other since.

And maaaaan – did I realize a couple of things about myself while reading this for the second time.

First off, the last time I read this book was 2008. (Also, in 2008, I read all six Jane Austen novels. I used to be such a good reader!) Masterpiece Theatre was showing all Jane Austen adaptations for their Classics season that year, and I thought, “why not?” And I remember watching this version of Persuasion – starring a not-quite-famous Sally Hawkins and Anthony Stewart Fucking Head playing Sir Walter Elliot! – and I was more focused on watching the series and getting through all six novels for me to take away Important Life Lessons.

This year (or, last year, as of this writing), I read the majority of the novel on the day I took the train to Boston to see the Arctic Monkeys, and I had plenty of time to learn things about myself.

FOR INSTANCE: I still have a voice in the back of my head that occasionally makes me think people are talking about me. Or having opinions about me. And while I recognize that that voice exists, and yes, I do realize I have a maybe-not-so-healthy dose of paranoia*†, I am not always successful in ignoring the voice.

*Fun Fact!: When you rearrange the letters in ALAINA PATTERSON, you get PARANOIA’S TALENT.

†When I was 6 years old, I was playing upstairs and could swear I heard my parents talking about me. So I raced down and confronted them. “ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT ME?” “No, Alaina, we’re not,” said Dad. “Okay,” I replied, and went back upstairs. A few minutes later, I came downstairs again and again asked, “ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT ME?” “No, Alaina, we’re not,” Dad insisted. I made the ol’ squinty eyes at him –

buffy suspicious face

– and went upstairs once more. And because even at the tender age of 6, I was aware of the Comedic Rule of Three, a few minutes later –

*stomp stomp stomp*

“ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT ME?”

And instead of a smart-ass retort (which I definitely deserved at that point), Dad instead asked me, “Alaina, do you know what the word ‘paranoid’ means?”

And instead of yelling, Margo Channing-style, “I don’t even know what that means,” I reply:

“YES. It’s when your PARENTS ANNOY YOU.”

hunchback take a bow

Anyways. The point is that Anne allowed herself to listen to other people instead of following her gut (or, heart, I guess), and I am so glad that I don’t do that (much) anymore.

Anne still loves Captain Wentworth, so seeing him in society is a little trying. They are friendly with each other, but reserved. It also helps Anne a bit by seeing him interact with other single ladies (sorry for the earworm) who are hoping to marry the young Captain.

Eventually, Anne rejoins Sir Walter Elliot and her sister and Lady Russell in Bath, and Captain Wentworth shows up too (with another family – Wikipedia says it’s the Musgroves, and if Wikipedia says it, it must be true), so Anne and Wentworth are still forced to be in each other’s company. The youngest Musgrove sister, Louisa, is unattached, and appears to have caught the eye of Captain Wentworth. One day, the entire company visits a neighboring town, and Anne runs into her cousin there, William Elliot. William had broken ties with the Kellynch Elliots the year before, but William is taken with Anne.

On the way back into Bath (or wherever – apparently I got confused about where all this is happening, but you know me – not fixing things!), Louisa is flirting with Wentworth and walking along the top of a wall that borders a cliff. Louisa loses her footing and falls to the beach below, and suffers a head injury. Anne takes control of the situation, ordering people to call for a doctor and to keep calm in general. Louisa is taken to the nearby home of a friend of Wentworth’s, Captain Benwick. Wentworth stays at Benwick’s to keep watch on Louisa because he feels guilty and partly responsible for her fall. Anne doesn’t realize this, and believes that Wentworth has developed an attraction to the younger Miss Musgrove.

Meanwhile, William Elliot starts hanging out with the other Elliots, to Sir Walter’s great delight. Anne gets along with him well enough, but she doesn’t completely fall under his spell.

Look, I’ve written a lot of words which is basically paraphrasing the plot regurgitation that Wikipedia usually goes into. At the end of the novel, Wentworth – who had never fallen in love with Louisa, he just felt guilty about his part in her accident; she ends up engaged to Captain Benwick – overhears Anne talking about how women hold on to feelings of love long after hope of having it requited:

“I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as – if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean, while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.” [p. 210]

And this is where Wentworth realizes that Anne still loves him, even after all those years.

dot heart eyes

So he writes her a letter. And lemme tell you, dear Reader(s), that letter is one of the most romantic things I’ve ever read:

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. [p. 211]

clueless swoon

Between “You pierce my soul”, “Peace – I will stop your mouth”, and taking me to museums on dates, this blog is turning into a step-by-step guide to Dating Alaina. (And Dudes, if you could also be Peter O’Toole, wearing this exact outfit –

peter o'toole smoking

– that would be greeeaaaat. Now tell me I pierce your soul. Thaaaaanks.)

Does Darcy tell Elizabeth that she pierces his soul? NO. And it’s been too long since I’ve read Sense and Sensibility, but does soul-piercing happen in that book? I DON’T THINK SO.

Thus, I have proven my thesis: Persuasion is the best love story Jane Austen ever wrote.

Grade for Persuasion: 5 stars

Fiction: “Sweet Tooth” by Ian McEwan

Sweet ToothI feel like there was a period of time where I liked Ian McEwan.  I have read Atonement at least twice and loved it each time. I’ve read Enduring Love (mainly because Daniel Craig was in the film adaptation) but I thought it was good. I borrowed Amsterdam from the library when I went to Springfield to watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest with My Dear Friend Sarah and then accidentally left Amsterdam in Springfield, and thus began my Never Take A Library Book On Vacation rule. (Books on CD are okay, though, because they don’t leave the car.)

I have not read every single book Ian McEwan has put out in the past decade. (In fact, the last McEwan book I read was Solar, and that was in 2011. Solar also left a very, very bad taste in my mouth.) But I was intrigued by the description in the book jacket of Sweet Tooth when I saw it in the library, and so I decided to give it a chance.

anchorman regret.gif

Also, I should point out here, at the beginning, that I am going to totally Monster At The End of This Book this review. To reveal the depths of my disappointment and anger, I am going to have to reveal the end of the book. So please, consider this your SPOILER ALERT, and do not continue to read if you do not want the end of the book ruined.

This will be your only warning.

[Note From The Future: I will warn you once more before the spoiler actually shows up.]

This novel is ostensibly about Serena Frome (rhymes with “plume”), who is also our narrator. She’s a girl who has a love of books and novels and wants to major in English in college, but her mother forces her to major in Maths at Oxford instead. She does keep reading novels throughout the book, however, and turns her love of novel-reading into a series in her university magazine:

[…] She asked me to write a regular column, “What I Read Last Week.” My brief was to be “chatty and omnivorous.” Easy! I wrote as I talked, usually doing little more than summarizing the plots of the books I had just raced through, and, in conscious self-parody, I heightened the occasional verdict with a row of exclamation marks. [p. 6-7]

GEE THAT SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE I KNOW ONLY WITH LESS CAPSLOCK AND MORE EXCLAMATION MARKS I SHOULD PROBABLY LIKE THIS BOOK RIGHT

bates motel i was wrong

In her last semester at university, her mentor and lover, Tony Canning, begins grooming her towards a career in civil intelligence at MI-5. Serena and Tony would spend the weekend together at Tony’s cottage out of town, while his wife is away. Or maybe it’s during the week and he goes home on weekends. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter – Serena and Tony are fucking, and Tony’s wife doesn’t know.

One day (weekend or otherwise, it really doesn’t matter), Serena gets a stain or something on her blouse, and Tony tells her to leave it in the laundry basket. That weekend, Tony breaks up with her, because Tony’s wife found the blouse in the laundry basket.

So Serena – and I’m never really sure who she’s telling her story to, because this book is written in the first person, but the plot isn’t happening to Serena as she’s relating it to whoever – it’s like she’s writing a novel about her plot and – well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The break-up. In her first reactions, Serena rationalizes Tony’s behavior, but does not relate her own feelings to the reader:

[Tony] had decided to cast himself as the victim, the wronged, the deceived, the rightly furious. He had persuaded himself that he had said nothing to me about the laundry basket. The memory had been erased, and for a purpose. But now he didn’t even know he’d erased it. He wasn’t even pretending. He actually believed in his disappointment. He really did think that I had done something devious and mean. He was protecting himself from the idea that he’d had a choice. [p. 29]

She just got broken up with. Dumped, even. She is our narrator, our window to the story. Where are her emotions? Where are her reactions?

[In all fairness, Serena may have discussed her emotions during this (and other) time(s) in the book. Y’all know that I don’t really take good notes, and then I write these months after reading the book so finer details get lost all the damn time. And to be honest, I probably noted that quote above because it reminded me of a certain person who kept telling me that his truck wasn’t abandoned in a parking garage, that it had been to a mechanic multiple times, and those stories had gone on for so long that it’s entirely possible that that certain person may have come to believe their own lies. I most likely didn’t even pick out this quote because of the book, but because of my own stupid little plot points that happen behind the computer screen.

Whatever. I’m rambling. But you get my point.]

[Hopefully.]

So anyway. Serena interviews with MI-5 and gets the job – some lower-level, analyst position or something, very bottom of the totem pole. Her supervisor is Max Greatorex, and yes, that is a name a character was given. Whatever. Anyway, somehow Max takes a shine to her – or maybe she lobbied for a bigger role, again, whatever – and after a few chapters or so Max promotes her to junior agent and puts her on the Sweet Tooth project.

Have I mentioned that Sweet Tooth takes place in the 1970s? So, in the ‘70s, Great Britain was … I don’t know, in the midst of an economic crisis and there were worries in amongst the government nerds that the rabble would rise up and overtake the monarchy and Parliament and turn to socialism. Or something. Whatever. So this Sweet Tooth project was designed to a) find poor, unknown writers and b) convince those writers that they have won a grant so s/he can write the next great British novel, and c) their contact at this grant foundation will also work as their editor, and d) the “editor” will help the writer show that the British government is jolly good, pip pip cheerio, no socialism to see here folks, wink wink nudge nudge, say no more.

[… isn’t Monty Python’s Flying Circus on Netflix now?]

[oh shit it is and now I will never get this goddamned review done]

And that’s how Serena meets Tom Haley.

So Tom Haley has written a couple of short stories and they were okay, but not great. He’s teaching at a college near Brighton and Serena travels down there, reading his short stories and commenting on them in her head. And, full disclosure, I cannot recall whether this particular story was one of those first or if it was one Tom wrote after meeting Serena, but whatever, it works here:

One story, completed in a first draft by the end of November, was narrated by a talking ape prone to anxious reflections about his lover, a writer struggling with her second novel. She has been praised for her first. Is she capable of another just as good? She is beginning to doubt it. The indignant ape hovers at her back, hurt by the way she neglects him for her labors. Only on the last page did I discover that the story I was reading was actually the one the woman was writing. The ape doesn’t exist, it’s a specter, the creature of her fretful imagination. No. And no again. Not that. Beyond the strained and ludicrous matter of cross-species sex, I instinctively distrusted this kind of fictional trick. I wanted to feel the ground beneath my feet. There was, in my view, an unwritten contract with the reader that the writer must honor. No single element of an imagined world or any of its characters should be allowed to dissolve on authorial whim. The invented had to be as solid and as self-consistent as the actual. This was a contract founded on mutual trust.  [p. 183]

thanks freddy foreshadowing

SERIOUSLY. Please read the above quote a couple of times and see if you can figure out what it means.

So let me jump ahead. Tom and Serena end up falling into bed together and she keeps reading his works and commenting on them. He writes a novella, and according to Serena, it’s terrible. It’s dystopian, it doesn’t have any hope to it – it’s like if Divergent didn’t have that quasi-romance going for it, as far as I can tell. And Serena is not impressed with Tom’s attitude towards society that comes out in his writing:

Here were the luxury and privilege of the well-fed man scoffing at all hopes of progress for the rest. T.H. Haley owed nothing to a world that nurtured him kindly, liberally educated him for free, sent him to no wars, brought him to manhood without scary rituals or famine or fear of vengeful gods, embraced him with a handsome pension in his twenties and placed no limits on his freedom of expression. This was an easy nihilism that never doubted that all we had made was rotten, never thought to pose alternatives, never derived hope from friendship, love, free markets, industry, technology, trade and all the arts and sciences. [p. 186]

GEE WHAT DOES THAT SOUND LIKE
DOES THAT SOUND LIKE MALE WHITE PRIVILEGE TO YOU TOO
OH GOOD IT’S NOT JUST ME

Anyways. Serena keeps reporting back to Max Greatorex on Tom’s progress (or lack thereof), and there’s a whole bit about how Serena and Max flirted with each other a lot, but when Serena made a move Max told her he was engaged, so she backed off, but now that she’s with Tom Max is super jealous about it and it’s all sorts of bullshit. But what really happens is Max gets so pissed at the fact that Serena’s fucking an asset (essentially) that Max gets Tom alone and Max tells Tom everything. And I mean everything.

That Serena works for MI-5. That the novel writing is just a front for anti-communist manifestos. That Serena had the hots for Max and her affair with Tom was just a front.

Big ol’ pile of bullshit.

The Sweet Tooth operation gets revealed in the papers as well. I don’t think that was the work of Max; I can’t remember, and I didn’t write it down. But the penultimate chapter is Serena fretting about her relationship with Tom, and how she can repair it in light of these revelations.

So here is where I get to the Monster at the End of This Book. If you want to remain unspoiled (though you may have an idea of what might be happening if you were paying attention), please hit the back button in your browser and wait for my next review to show up. It’s for the best.

I’m assuming if you’re still reading, you’re okay with being spoiled. So here we go.

Serena returns to the flat where she and Tom stayed, and there is a complete manuscript and a letter addressed to her on the kitchen table. And these are the final paragraphs of that letter:

What I’m working my way toward is a declaration of love and a marriage proposal. Didn’t you once confide to me your old-fashioned view that this was how a novel should end, with a “Marry me”? With your permission I’d like to publish one day this book on the kitchen table. It’s hardly an apologia, more an indictment of us both, which would surely bind us further. But there are obstacles. We wouldn’t want you or Shirley or even Mr. Greatorex to languish behind bars at Her Majesty’s leisure, so we’ll have to wait until well into the twenty-first century to be clear of the Official Secrets Act. A few decades is time enough for you to correct my presumptions on your solitude, to tell me about the rest of your secret work and what really happened between you and Max, and time to insert those paddings of the backward glance: in those days, back then, these were the years of … Or how about, “Now that the mirror tells a different story, I can say it and get it out of the way. I really was pretty.” Too cruel? No need to worry, I’ll add nothing without your say-so. We won’t be rushing into print.

[…] Tonight I’ll be on a plane to Paris to stay with an old school friend who says he can give me a room for a few days. When things have quietened down, when I’ve faded from the headlines, I’ll come straight back. If your answer is a fatal no, well, I’ve made no carbon, this is the only copy and you can throw it to the flames. If you still love me and your answer is yes, then our collaboration begins and this letter, with your consent, will be Sweet Tooth’s final chapter.

Dearest Serena, it’s up to you. [p. 300-301]

inside out angry.gif

FOR FUCK’S SAKE

Jesus Christ, I’m still angry about this. (GOOD.)

So. Ian McEwan tricked us again, much like he tricked the reader in Atonement. That’s why I didn’t feel like Serena’s reactions were shown to the reader – they weren’t.

Tom wrote Serena’s novel. Tom appropriated Serena’s voice and experiences, filtered them through his own perspective, and then (ostensibly) arranged to have it published. And I get that this is fiction, I really do. I guess what I’m the most mad about is the fact that Ian McEwan is kind of a dick.

“Oh, you’re reading my novel. Look, I’m writing another interesting, flawed female character with a very unique perspective! And I’ve made you like parts of her, right? You probably don’t like everything about her, but that’s okay – that’s life! But GUESS WHAT – you’re going to get to the very end of the book, at which point you will learn that it isn’t Serena who’s talking! It’s someone else! And this was all a front!

Spaceballs Fooled You.gif

Ad best of all, you don’t even have to figure it out for yourself – I’m going to tell you! Because I’m SO FUCKING CLEVER I CAN’T NOT TELL YOU ABOUT IT AH HA HA HA!”

april scissors.gif

I expected so much better from you, Ian McEwan.

Grade for Sweet Tooth: no stars.

Fiction: “Luck Is No Lady” by Amy Sandas

luck is no ladyLuck is No Lady is another book I downloaded on my Kindle at some indeterminate time. All I know is, I needed a book to read at the gym, and now that I think about it, I probably started reading this while I was also reading Sweet Tooth – spoiler alert for that book, I did not like it. So looking back, I think it makes sense that I used this book as a distraction from the finger-quotes “serious” book I was “reading” at the time.

And oh man – this book was good.

It’s a typical Regency romance with many of the common tropes – a trio of sisters (the better to base a romance trilogy off of, y’know), whose parents have died. The eldest is guiding the two younger girls through their first season. Their father died with a debt they have to repay, and the eldest is shielding the younger girls from that knowledge because she’s filled with pride and doesn’t want her sisters to worry.

But the book starts off with a classic Hide Behind The Curtain Scene that I think I’ve read at least once before this year, maybe twice? No, it is twice! The first time was in Shameless, and we’ll see it a third time in the upcoming Do You Want to Build a Start a Scandal?

We meet Emma Chadwick – eldest Chadwick daughter, trying to keep the family together through their first season and also trying to figure out how to pay back her father’s loan shark – as she’s hiding from a creepy guy behind a curtain in a study during a ball. That’s also where our hero, Roderick Bentley, meets her, and there is instant chemistry. But they don’t act on it, because

BENTLEY: he is the bastard son of an earl and, after watching how the ton treated his mother when he was a child, he has sworn off of marrying into that class.

EMMA: Bentley is a very rich owner of a “gambling hell” (“casino”) and she is a self-proclaimed spinster, so that match is Something That Is Just. Not. Done.

A couple of weeks after that encounter, Emma receives another missive from the loan shark, demanding payment. At the same time, her elder aunt Angelique notes that there is an advertisement in the paper for a bookkeeper. Emma has always been good with figures, and so she puts on her Sneaking Out Bonnet and goes to the address.

You can see where this is going.

So Bentley hires her, and there’s the fun tension where they both know the other person but for propriety’s sake they have to pretend that they weren’t almost making out behind a drapery a fortnight ago. Bentley agrees to have “Mrs. Adams” calculate the figures, but when she comes up with the same amount as the other applicants, he says she won’t suit. Instead of taking the hint and shutting up, Emma accuses Bentley of withholding information in an attempt to make her fail.

Turns out, Bentley’s previous bookkeeper was embezzling a bunch of money. Bentley’s great at gambling and making investments and basically being a very sweet version of a 19th Century Wall Street Guy, But In London, but Bentley is very bad at balancing checkbooks. Emma is hired on the spot, and given the added task of auditing the ledgers to see what happened.

And that, my friends, is the MacGuffin. You will never find out if the previous bookkeeper gets punished, or if Emma discovers anything hinkier than padding invoices for candles. It is not important.

What is important is the relationship between Emma and Bentley and how it grows through the book. First of all, the only conflict keeping them together is their stupid selves. Meaning, they think their hang-ups are too important to get over. Emma refuses to give in to her “selfish” desires to pursue a romance with Bentley – she needs to take care of her sisters, and if Emma is seen with the rakish owner of a gambling hell, she doesn’t care that it may reflect poorly on her – she cares what the ton will do to Portia and Lily. Bentley cares a great deal for Emma, and listens to her and – my god, he genuinely cares about her and I swear to god, I just reread the book on my Kindle (to refresh my memory, ostensibly, but it’s just as good the second time in nine months) and I can’t think of any moments where Bentley may have a hint of misogyny or any of those old-timey Regency attitudes that still pop up every now and then.

But anyway, in spite of his feelings, Bentley doesn’t want to get involved with that societal class.

And as the book progresses, feelings of the characters really shine and the sexual tension is great. Some of the best I’ve read. And it starts even before they start kissing for reals!

This comes at the end of her interview, when Bentley hires her. I should note – the casino he runs is adjacent to a brothel, but he doesn’t own the brothel or control it.

“It is not my habit to seek companionship from the girls in the west wing.”

The statement was uttered in a lowered, intimate tone, as if the conversation had just crossed a significant threshold. One she was not quite certain she had agreed to traverse. “As I said, such a thing is none of my concern.”

He dipped his chin and his smile widened, lengthening the masculine curve of his lips. The look he gave her was laced with an intensity she could not deny. “I know it isn’t. But I wanted you to know anyway.” [p. 112-113]

I mean — I mean, just — just read this — 

If she were not responsible for her sisters and there was just herself to consider …

The moment became too quiet as they stared at each other. He studied her. Seeking something.

Her heart ached within the restraints she could not break.

After a bit, he smiled. Mischief flashed in his eyes and swirled there with something else she would not have recognized before that morning.

“Admit it,” he said. “You don’t want to dance with me because you know you would enjoy it.”

His voice had lowered again into those intimate tones that flowed so warmly across her skin, making her feel like they were the only two people in the room.

Her limbs felt heavy and weak. Her blood rushed faster through her veins and her heart picked up speed.

“I will admit no such thing.”

“But you do not deny it either.”

Emma glanced away again. He was right — she couldn’t.

They stood in silence for a moment. Then she felt him step up beside her until he stood close enough for his coat to brush her bare shoulder. She looked up and saw something anticipatory in his gaze. Something that set her nerves alight with delicious sensations.

“Walk with me in the garden.” [p. 203-204]

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[I dunno, maybe it’s me – but sometimes, the build-up is even better than the actual hook-up, y’know?]

And maybe I’m biased, because there’s a scene in the book where one of the gamblers comes into the casino during the daytime to square up with Bentley, but the gambler is drunk and embarrassed and he starts waving around a pistol and he accidentally grazes Bentley’s arm. Emma happens to be there and she brings him back upstairs to the offices to clean his wound, and IT FEELS SO MUCH LIKE THAT SCENE IN HOW TO STEAL A MILLION THAT I CAN’T EVEN

“You are surprisingly calm for having just been shot,” she observed. “Do you often entertain drunk young men waving pistols?”

He gave a soft chuckle. “Not if I can avoid it.” [p. 129-130]

Okay, maybe it doesn’t have the same spark as Peter O’Toole yelping as Audrey Hepburn puts the iodine on his shoulder, then she scolds, “Stop being such a baby, it’s just a flesh wound,” and then he mutters, “Happens to be my flesh.” BUT STILL.

(I *still* haven’t rewatched that movie since I talked about it back when I reviewed The Art Forger. I should really remedy that.)

I really liked this book. And it was short! When you read something on your Kindle/Kindle app, it tells you how far along in the book you are, and spoiler alert, the actual storyline of the book ends at 69%. (Nice.) The rest of the book is a preview for the next book in the series, which I think focuses on Lily, the middle Chadwick sister? I’m not sure, I didn’t read that part.

I really liked that the tension and struggle in the book came from inside the two characters and not outside forces or society actively making thing difficult. And I really liked the realness of Bentley – yeah, he’s probably too much of a nice guy, but isn’t nice every once in a while to pretend that one exists somewhere?

Grade for Luck Is No Lady: 4 stars

Fiction: “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty

big little liesSo normally I begin my reviews with a story – how I picked this book up, what drew me to it, or what was going on at the time I was reading it. But this time, I’m just going to cut to the chase –

Big Little Lies WAS GREAT.

dot heart eyes

Big Little Lies takes place outside of Sydney, Australia (the miniseries transplants everyone to Monterey, California), and focuses on three mothers – Madeline, mother of three; Celeste, mother of twin boys, Max and Josh; and Jane, single mother of one son, Ziggy.  The book starts on Trivia Night – an annual fundraiser party the parents throw, and this year, the theme is Audreys and Elvises, so the men dress up like Elvis Presley and the women dress up as Audrey Hepburns, and the whole concept is very weird to me, but when the climax of the book comes up, picture everyone wearing either really bad wigs and jumpsuits or little black dresses and pearls. A neighbor hears a commotion going on at the school and wonders what happened. And then, the book hears snippets from some of the other parents at the school, describing what they saw, similar to a Greek chorus.

The action then flashes back to the first day of school, when Ziggy joins the kindergarten and meets Madeline’s daughter, Chloe (I think her name is Chloe. I don’t have the book anymore, it’s been forever since I watched the miniseries, and Google is failing me. I’m gonna call her Chloe until I see otherwise). Madeline and Jane and their kids meet when Madeline is storming out of her SUV to rage at a teenager who’s on their phone while driving, and her ankle gives out and she falls in the road. Jane offers to drive her and Chloe to school, as they’re all going to the same place.

Madeline becomes fast friends with Jane, and defends her and Ziggy when Ziggy is accused of hitting another girl in his kindergarten class, Amabella. Thus begins the war between Madeline and Amabella’s mother, Renata.

Madeline has a fierce, protective personality. Compare her to her other best friend, Celeste, who is cool and collected and has by all appearances the best life – married to Perry, they are stupid rich with twin boys. Celeste gave up her law practice to be a stay at home mother, and they seem very happy.

The “big little lies” are multitudinous throughout the book, and the book does a great job of showing the consequences of those lies. Amabella was hit by another student on the first day of school, but is pressured to say the culprit was Ziggy. This causes Renata to hate Jane on sight and shun her and Ziggy at every event throughout the school year. Madeline fights back just as hard (and just as bitchily), by using her connections to get tickets to Disney on Ice on the same day as Amabella’s birthday party, so only half the kids show up to the birthday party in retaliation.

Jane lies to Ziggy about who is father is, because she doesn’t want to tell him that he was the product of a rape. Jane doesn’t even tell Madeline until about halfway through the book, because she feels ashamed for what happened, even though she knows she shouldn’t feel that way.

And Celeste lies about her marriage, because to tell the truth would mean admitting that Perry hits her, and sometimes she hits him back, but the hits are getting worse. She starts seeing a counselor who advises her to find an apartment where she can take herself and the boys. Perry finds out about the new apartment on the night of the Trivia event.

I don’t want to give too much more away. (I mean yes, it’s mostly because I borrowed the book from the library and don’t have it on me anymore, and I took some pictures of some quotes but didn’t actually take notes on characters or plots.) If you don’t feel like reading a book but you’d rather watch eight-ish hours of television instead, I also highly recommend the first season of the miniseries from HBO. Reese Witherspoon plays Madeline, Celeste is perfectly portrayed by Nicole Kidman (who deserved every award she won for the role), and Shailene Woodley is an excellent fit for Jane. I managed to get the series on DVD from my library because I don’t pay for HBO, and it was worth it. It follows the book very well (with one exception: in the book, Madeline does not have an affair. Having said that, the miniseries was written with Liane Moriarty’s blessing, so I’m kind of okay with it).

So because I don’t want to spoil too much about it and instead just encourage you to read it if you have not yet already, I’m going to leave with two quotes that fall into the All About Alaina category.

“I wasn’t really enjoying it [being a lawyer],” said Celeste. Was this true? She had hated the stress. She ran late every day. But didn’t she once love some aspects of it? The careful untangling of a legal issue. Like math, but with words. [p. 135-136]

This is me now! I’m not a lawyer, but in my job, I work with the sales tax law. I work on detangling the crazy new sales tax exemptions that legislators want to put through, and in the off-season, I help with drafting new sales tax laws to hopefully go into effect in the next session. And it is very much like math, but with words. And I LOVE IT.

(I also really love watching people lose interest in what I’m talking about when I’m talking about tax laws. BUT I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE FOR HOW MUCH I LIKE BEING THIS NERDY)

Okay. This quote is … it’s a story.

“Mummy, I am starved to death,” said the little boy.

“Have a muffin,” Madeline said gloomily. [p. 95]

THE “HAVE A MUFFIN” STORY

Last year, I was at my own trivia night with my friend Brad, and that particular week, my sister joined us. Missy works as a scheduler for a surgery medical unit. This was the Thursday after a pretty heinous snowstorm, and Missy was telling us about how some people didn’t even cancel their surgeries during the storm, that’s how hardcore Mainers are.

But then there was this one woman, who canceled her surgery first thing in the morning. Then, when the snow started to let up, she called back to try and … well …

Missy: So this woman calls BACK and says, “Hey, the snow’s better, can I reschedule my surgery for around eleven?” And I go, “No, we called the doctor and he’s moved on. We can reschedule for another day, but you cancelled for today.” And she goes, “But I haven’t had anything to eat, I can still do this!” And I say, “I don’t know what to tell you … have a muffin, I guess?”

At this point, BRAD LOSES IT. He’s fuckin’ dyin’. He’s fallen off the bench, laughing his stupid head off. He has never heard anything as funny in his life as my sister telling someone to have a muffin. It is apparently the funniest thing he’s ever goddamn heard, and he’s got twenty years on me.

It is now our favorite in-joke. And I can’t wait for when Missy comes to trivia this year, blueberry muffin hiding in her purse, just waiting for the best moment to tell Brad to have a muffin, because it’s going to be AMAZING.

So I was really happy when a really good book quoted my new favorite inside joke to me in the exact same words. It was … it was magic.

Grade for Big Little Lies: 5 stars

Fiction: “A Spear of Summer Grass” by Deanna Raybourn

spear of summer grassI was hoping to find the next Lady Julia Grey mystery on one of my trips to the library last summer, but no such luck. And at that time the Yarmouth library wasn’t participating in inter-library loan programs, so it was a hassle to request books. (I’m hoping that process is easier in Auburn – although the Auburn library may charge me for it?!)

(Oh no wait – apparently they charge if the book is requested from a library outside of the State. That totally makes sense. Phew!)

But the library did have this stand-alone novel by Deanna Raybourn (the author of the Lady Julia Grey novels), and I decided to give it a shot.

Reader, I’m so glad I did.

The story takes place after WWI, and begins in Paris. Our narrator, Delilah Drummond, is a party girl. She’s been married three times, and divorced once. Her first marriage, to Johnny, ended when he was killed in WWI. Her second marriage to Quentin was amicable, but ultimately not a union to be maintained. They are still very friendly with each other – and at times, sexual, even though Quentin has since remarried and had children. Quentin is also her solicitor.

Delilah’s third husband, Misha, has just committed suicide. And the papers and gossip rags are all proclaiming that he killed himself over the idea that Delilah was going to divorce him too, but in reality, he had received a cancer diagnosis and, well, this is the 1920s, there aren’t a lot of options for palliative care.

All of this gossip is hounding Delilah and her equally-dramatic mother, Mossy. While Delilah is fine with waiting the gossip out, it is Mossy who suggests that Delilah escape the scene and go to Africa. Mossy’s favorite ex-husband, Nigel, owns Fairlight, an estate outside of Nairobi. She agrees to go, and is accompanied by her much shyer and almost mousy cousin, Dora, whose nickname is Dodo.

On the train, Delilah reads from her guidebook on Kenya to Dodo:

I pointed out one bridge from my guidebook as we crossed it. “This is the Tsavo bridge, Dodo. When it was built, a pair of man-eating lions spent nine months gobbling up the crew. It says here they ate more than a hundred men.” [p. 39-40]

[That was only funny to me because I follow @SUEtheTRex on Twitter and every April 1, they let the Tsavo Lions take over their Twitter feed. I love SUE the T-Rex, everyone should go follow them RIGHT NOW.]

[SUE uses nongendered pronouns. Because they’re awesome.]

Upon arriving in Nairobi, Delilah meets Ryder White in a very memorable way – he goes up to a creep that had tried to hit on Delilah on the train, and Ryder horsewhips the creep in front of everyone because the creep is also an abusive husband. The next morning, Ryder is the one to drive Delilah and Dodo to Fairlight. Delilah is horrified at the state of the place – rancid food, crops failing – and she and Dodo resolve to restore Fairlight while they’re there.

The next morning, tribal women come to Fairlight for healing. Delilah, who had been a nurse during WWI, does what she can, and the next time Ryder comes by, she asks for supplies. He arranges to get her what she needs. Throughout the course of the book, Delilah continues to care for the people who live near Fairlight.

Meanwhile, former friends of Delilah’s happen to live nearby – Rex and Helen, cohorts of Delilah’s mother. Rex is hoping to help garner Kenya’s independence from Britain, and aspires to be the first Governor. Meanwhile, Helen and Rex are both sleeping around on each other. Their artist friend, Kit, is living in the cottage attached to their villa, within easy walking distance of Fairlight. Kit has also been a former lover of Delilah’s, and when she learns of his presence, they resume their fuck-buddy status while he paints for his next art show.

Ryder introduces Delilah to Gideon, a Masai man of the village who helps Ryder on his safaris and hunting trips. He and Ryder have an easy friendship, and Gideon shares some of his knowledge of Ryder with Delilah. He and Delilah grow to be friends; he introduces her to his babu (grandfather), a mark of high honor and respect.

Meanwhile, Fairlight’s groundskeeper, Gates, has come back from a vacation and does not like taking orders from women. Later on, Dodo finds out that Gates has overtaken a field that’s meant to grow pyrethrum has been turned into a field for cannabis – and in a move that shocks Alaina, Delilah doesn’t like that and orders the field to be mowed under.

It was another of the sad pyrethrum fields and I turned to Dodo with a shrug.

“So? It’s another few acres of a poor crop that ought to be plowed under.”

“Look again.”

I moved into the field, pushing past the first several rows of pyrethrum, and straight into something quite different.

I turned back to Dodo. “You must be joking.”

“No. Cannabis sativa. Hundreds of plants. The pyrethrum is only the border, no doubt for camouflage.” [p. 245]

I mean, I don’t understand why Delilah didn’t see that as a huge financial opportunity! Isn’t the post-WWI time period one of the best time periods for reefer madness? Maybe I’ve just been listening to my friend moan about how the marijuana legalization effort in Maine has not gone fast enough for him for too long (and maybe I also really really want that sweet, sweet sales tax revenue to benefit the state), but why wouldn’t Delilah consider a field full of pot a surprise goldmine?

Anyway. She fires Gates – and relishes it, after she learns he’s been beating Moses, Gideon’s younger brother that she hired to watch the cattle.

Later, Delilah is invited to a dinner party by Helen – Rex is out of town. Unbeknownst to Delilah, Helen regularly hosts dinner parties when Rex is away. And when I say “dinner party,” I totally mean “drug-fueled orgies”. Ryder happens to show up during the main course, and when the pairings-off begin, he grabs Delilah and they escape. On their way back to Fairlight they both succumb to their mutual attraction, but Ryder tells her that the relationship can’t continue because he knows that she plans on leaving Africa.

There are hunts for lions, and watching the wildlife amble about the landscape, and Delilah slowly falls in love with Africa. And it’s beautiful, and heartrending, and just … *sigh*

Together we watched the giraffe come and drink at the far edge of lake Wanyama. It was a small herd, just a few cows with their calves and a few adolescent males trailing behind. They were graceful and silent, bobbing their heads down at a ridiculous angle to get to the water. A crowned crane waded nearby, breaking the water into small ripples that flowed over to our edge, connecting us. And suddenly, the feeling Moses had conjured grew so strong and so deep I felt I could just float away on it. I was in love, really in love for the first time in a very long time, maybe the first time ever. And it was with this place, this Africa, as real to me as any man. The grey-green water of the Tana River was his blood and his pulse was the steady beat of the native drums. The red dust of his flesh smelled of sage from the blue stems of the leleshwa and sweetness from the jasmine and under it all the sharp copper tang of blood. In the heart of the Rift lay his heart, and his bones were the very rocks. Africa was lover, teacher and mentor, and I could not leave him. [p. 347-348]

Oh shit, I skipped ahead. There is a mystery in the book – it develops slowly, and I don’t want to spoil it. The above quote is towards the end, after the mystery has been solved, and – SPOILER ALERT! – Delilah does decide to stay in Africa. But the plot about the mystery and also how she connects with the people that live near Fairlight is just so beautiful, that I really did cry like, a few times while reading it.

So if you like love stories and stories about people finding themselves and also Africa, you would probably really like this book.

Grade for A Spear of Summer Grass: 4 stars

Fiction: “The Invisible Library” by Genevieve Cogman

invisible libraryI picked this up from the library because … because I don’t know why. Look, I was doing that thing where I walked through the aisles with my head tilted and the spine of this book caught my eye. It had the word “library” in the title, I like books, and the description on the back of it sounded interesting – kind of a mix of Doctor Who and The Eyre Affair with some mystery thrown in. Whatever, I’m not always deep about shit.

So in the universe of The Invisible Library, there is a Library. And it is invisible. I mean, kind of. The people who work at the Library – y’know, Librarians – they can see the Library. It’s invisible to you and I, because we aren’t Librarians.

The Library is always written with a capital L. It exists outside of time or space, and acts as a hub between worlds – or as the Librarians call them, “alternates.” Librarians travel throughout the alternates to bring copies of books native to those alternates to be stored in the Library.

“Then what is the purpose of the Library?” Vale asked.

“To save books,” Irene said firmly. The words were so automatic that she didn’t even need to think about them. She’d spent all her life with the idea. But the words had never sounded hollow to her before. She made herself focus on the familiar justification. “To save created works. In time, if their original alternate loses them, we can give them back copies, so that they aren’t lost. And in the meantime, the Library exists and endures.” [p. 184]

Irene is our protagonist. She is a Junior-level Librarian; a field agent, if you will, who travels to alternates to retrieve books. In between her assignments, she is able to devote her time to research … things. Write dissertations? I don’t know, I didn’t write that part down in my notes. But Irene longs for the day when she doesn’t have to travel and can just stay in her office and study.

Today – er, the start of the book – is not that day.

Almost immediately upon her return from an alternate, she is assigned another job – and this time, she has a new recruit to take with her. Mentoring is an essential responsibility for Librarians, and Irene has been dragging her feet on taking a recruit on. Irene’s intern (I don’t care or recall if that’s the actual term used, but that’s the one I’m going with) is Kai.

Kai is very pretty.

He had the sort of beauty that instantly shifted him from a possible romance object to an absolute impossibility. Nobody got to spend time with people who looked like that outside the front pages of newspapers and glossy magazines. His skin was so pale that she could see blue veins at his wrists and throat. And his hair was a shade of black that looked almost steely blue in the dim lights, braided down the back of his neck. His eyebrows were the same shade, like lines of ink on his face, and his cheekbones could have been used to cut diamonds, let alone cheese. [p. 23]

Sure. Okay.

At first, Kai seems sullen and surly. But as he works with Irene, we see that he uses his intensity to mask a desire to learn. He’s also very respectful to Irene, which I thought was a nice character trait. I mean, you read a few young adult-ish novels where the Sullen Teen Boy is just a bit of a bitca to everyone, and when one of them isn’t, it’s noticeable.

Anyway. Their assignment takes them to a steampunk-esque alternate for Victorian London, where they meet up with Peregrine Vale, an analogue for Sherlock Holmes. A rare edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales has gone missing, and they need to get it back.

The owner of the Grimm, Lord Wyndham, has died. He was also a vampire. I don’t recall if it’s important that Wyndham was a vampire; I only wrote down that he was a vampire. So I’m mentioning it. His rival (?), Lord Silver, is a suspect – oh, maybe it’s because vampires and the Fae are mortal enemies? Oh, shit, right – so, Lord Silver is a Fae. He’s also the ambassador to Lichtenstein.

jon hamm nod

Irene runs into Lord Silver while investigating the crime scene. “But Alaina,” you cry, “Irene’s a Librarian! Why is she working the crime scene?”

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Irene is almost seduced by Lord Silver – in that he Fae’s her into being attracted to him – but she keeps her cool. She uses his seduction to score an invitation to the Ambassador’s Ball where she’ll be able to do more investigating. (I cannot remember the reason why they needed to get to the Ball, but it doesn’t really matter.) While there, the Iron Brotherhood – a cult or something who worship mechanical stuff and the sworn enemy of the Fae and also Lichtenstein – attack the Ball with robot crocodiles.

That was the other reason I picked up the book – I’m pretty sure the back of the book mentioned mechanical crocodiles or something.

peter pan crocodile.gif

ANYWAY. So Irene, Kai, and their new friend Peregrine Vale escape the crocodile ball in a carriage. BUT! Their carriage gets taken over by Alberich, a rogue Librarian who is ALSO searching for the missing Grimm volume! AND! Alberich drives the carriage right into the icy cold river and uses MAGIC (which I’ll explain in a minute) to make the carriage inescapable, ensuring Team Library will drown!

But apparently Kai is actually a dragon and is able to tell the water not to drown them so they survive.

What the gif doctor who.gif

Now she was sure what Kai really was. A river spirit might have changed himself to water to save them, and a nature spirit of some other type might have cajoled or persuaded the river to help them, but only one sort of being would give orders to a river.

Kai was a dragon. What the hell was she supposed to do about that? [p. 176-177]

Um, could you explain what that meant?

Here’s my biggest complaint about this book: nothing is ever really explained. We begin the book as Irene is returning from her assignment. Before we can take a breath to learn about this strange new world, we’re moved right into the next assignment with Kai. But Kai already has a basis of knowledge about this world, so no explanations are necessary from Irene. BUT WE THE READERS ARE NOT KAI! Us readers are asked to take A LOT on faith.

Like, the magic stuff. Librarians can speak the Language – commands uttered with a Capital Letter which controls the alternate world. So for instance, if a Librarian is in an alternate and there’s a locked door but they don’t have the key, a Librarian can use the Language to order That Specific Door to Open. There aren’t any spells or magic words – it’s just capital letters.

But apparently Kai didn’t use the Language to save them in the river – he just dropped his human form (?) to become a dragon (??) to tell the river (?!?) to not drown them, and then turned back into human (?*!?), BUT WE NEVER SEE THE DRAGON THING AGAIN OR LEARN WHY IT’S APPARENTLY A BIG DEAL.

Another example is the whole Bradamant thing. Bradamant is another Librarian, and she was Irene’s mentor when Irene was an intern or trainee or whatever. Bradamant is the type of mentor to praise you when no one else is looking, and then when you do a great job out in the field, Bradamant will take credit for everything you do and then highlight every mistake you made. So in short, she’s a middle manager.

But there’s so much tension between Bradamant and Irene! And apparently there was an Incident, but the only description you get of the Incident (and that’s my capitalization, not the book’s) comes from Bradamant, who we’ve already determined to be unreliable.

“We were trying to locate a book which had been stolen by a notorious thief. Everyone knew who she was. The best police officers in the city were watching her every move and still they couldn’t catch her. And when Irene and I were trying to investigate, well …” [Bradamant] smiled again, tolerantly. “The lady in question was very charming. And it isn’t as if I was in any significant danger while Irene was so, shall we say, “preoccupied” with her. And I managed to find the book, so all’s well that ends well.”

Irene looked down at her knees and bit her tongue. It hadn’t been like that at all, but that was all the story that anyone would know now. [p. 223-224]

BUT WHAT WAS IT LIKE, IRENE?! It sounds like Irene merely tried to talk to the lady!thief and convince her to not steal anymore, but that is not clear! Why can’t you say the thing?

If you want to read a much more in-depth review, please check out the comments on the book over on Goodreads, Tinka’s especially.

When I was done with the book, it almost felt like the characters were sharks – if they stopped moving through the action, they would die. They almost had an aversion to sitting down and explaining what was going on. And with such a fantastical story as this, the story really needed to be able to take those moments and get everyone on the same page.

I mean they had mechanical crocodiles in this book and they were completely wasted.

Grade for The Invisible Library: 1 star